Australia's fearless approach wins Olympic opener vs. Argentina

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Australia marked their return on the Olympic stage by beating South American power Argentina 2-0 on Thursday. This was the first group to be in contention for the Tokyo 2020 men's football tournament.

Lachlan Welsh, Western United attacker, was able to score Joel King's 14th-minute cross in Sapporo to give Australia the lead. Marco Tilio, Melbourne City sensation scored with only his second touch in the final minute to seal Australia's victory.

Setting the table

An insufficient examination of the situation revealed that Australia had little chance against Argentina. Australia's footballing pedigree is almost identical to that of the Westminster Kennel Club's top dogs and the one that lives next door. Despite their different reputations, the Sapporo Dome opened perfectly for one of Olyroo’s most famous wins.

After a bright start, King-and-Wales' combination was a good example of what coach Graham Arnold wants his national teams to play. It included wingbacks coming forward to add speed, power, and fearlessness to an attack that drives forward. With this modus operandi in place and their opposition clearly not the brutal behemoths they might have been, Australia's goal early on helped soothe any frayed nerves and also forced the Albiceleste team to raise the issue. The Argentines eventually took control of the ball during the remainder of the half. This caused some nervy moments as expected, given their attacking talents. But it also allowed the Australians to keep their feet on the ground by being consistent in transition and picking their moments with confidence. Harry Souttar's and Thomas Deng's central-defensive team, both of whom are two of Australia's most experienced players, performed admirably as they faced Adolfo Gaich (Argentina's senior player) and Alexis Mac Allister at the back. King and Nathaniel Atkinson as wingbacks were able to continue their marauding and pestering of the Argentine four. King's relentless efforts to get forward led to the momentous event that saw Australia's other major boon in the opening half: Francisco Ortega’s dismissal. Booked for his last-ditch challenge on the Melbourne City wing-back seconds earlier, Ortega received his marching orders when he made contact with Riley McGree awaiting the subsequent set-piece. Replays revealed that the card was contentious and that the contact was initiated when the 22-year-old was shoved forward by his own goalkeeper. Though Argentina had accumulated 62% of possession and had nine shots by half-time, none of their efforts troubled goalkeeper Tom Glover, while Australia was perhaps unlucky to grab a second through one of their moments on the counter or through McGree's audacious bicycle-kick attempt. Arnold's side and their one-man advantage managed to ride out 45 minutes without incident despite Argentine attacks. There were also a few yellow-card calls that sounded suspiciously like referee make-ups. Twilio's 80th-minute thunderbolt sealed a deserved victory.

The Game in the context

It was fitting that Argentina received the Olyroos' triumph with the 2-0, after they ended a 13-year drought from the Olympics. They had clashed in the past at both the 2004 and 2008 Games. Australia lost 1-0 both times to the eventual gold medallists. But, considering the strength and power of their opponents in Athens & Beijing, these were not shameful losses. Willy Caballero's, Javier Mascherano's, and Carlos Tevez were all part the 2004 Argentine Squad. They also had overage players Roberto Ayala (and Kily Gonzalez) who were U23s. In 2008, they used Sergio Aguero to replace Angel Di Maria and Mascherano to be overage representatives. While Thursday's win is a major confidence booster, Argentina's team should not be confused for being as world-beating as their predecessors. Fernando Batista, coach of Argentina, has a clear development bent for 2021. Of the eight members of Argentina's recently triumphant Copa America squad who were also eligible to play at the Olympics, none are in Japan. Just a single member of the squad -- Mac Allister -- has started for Argentina at senior level and the only overage player present was uncapped goalkeeper Jeremias Ledesma. The Copa Libertadores has just begun and Boca Juniors' River Plate players are not there, along with a lot of Europe-based players who have yet to be released. It is a little churlish to shower on the Olyroos's well-earned parade. But, with a Spanish squad full of senior internationals (including breakout Euro 2020 stars Dani Olmo & Pedri), it will be difficult to maintain the proper context of Thursday’s win and manage expectations accordingly. Australia needs to win the next round before they can begin dreaming about a medal. Australia won Spain's defeat by Egypt on Thursday and will now be certain of a spot in the quarterfinals with one game remaining if it wins on Sunday. The world is watching A strong tournament is no guarantee of a player landing a big-time deal. This is because of the wealth of information available to clubs and their Scouting departments in modern Football. However, most players at junior tournaments are already on the clubs' radar. Strong performances can help to reinforce a player’s worth to a club. Atkinson's performance with Melbourne City over the past 2 years has raised the eyebrows and may have given potential suitors the push they need to get on the phone to Casey. At 22 years of age, the Tasmanian will almost certainly become an Australian Socceroo. Interest from other clubs would be good. The same reputation boost also goes for the likes of Australia-based standouts Denis Genreau, King, and Metcalfe. Because it is a U23 tournament where clubs can bar their players, the Olympic Games does not have the same level of prestige that the stages these young athletes dream of. But, more performances like the one against Argentina could help open the doors to European football, which could mean more opportunities for the Socceroos to benefit in the future.

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